Will Ferrell’s Political Transformation

There’s an extent to which Will Ferrell’s always been a political artist. Jacobim Mugatu’s a crude if effective satire on the cluelessness and grotesquerie of the fashion industry. Ron Burgundy’s the last gasp of the resplendent patriarchy. Ricky Bobby is the redemption and refinement of Red State America. There’s the Bush impersonations, which he took from Saturday Night Live to the stage. His turn as Bob Woodward in the spectacularly funny and underrated Dick. Not to mention the general portrayal of flailing, panicked, arrested development, which in and of themselves are an ongoing exploration of gender and dogma, be it Chazz Reinhold, a pathetic seducer with a grand theory in Wedding Crashers (itself a movie about the private lives of the power elite), or failed celebrity Jackie Moon trying to save a sports team in a failing media market in Semi-Pro.

But it seems that Ferrell’s turning to more explicitly political work. The Other Guys may have only been retconned to be about the financial crisis, but Ferrell’s next project, Swear to God, will have him playing a hedge fund manager who reconsiders his life and the impact of his life’s work on other people after what he believes is an encounter with the divine. And that comes after he shoots Southern Rivals this fall, in which he and Zach Galifianakis play rival politicians fighting over a Congressional seat. The movie’s set to come out in the midst of the 2012 elections. Given that he’s already played a figure of the establishment press (and man would I love to see Ferrell parody Woodward in Great Man mode), Ferrell’s really covering all the bases here.

And in a way, I sort of feel like Ferrell’s arrested development roles, his honing of his angry man schtick, is perfect training for taking on politics in this schizophrenic moment. Our political arena simultaneously wildly crude and elegant. You can stay on the air if you mock the President’s daughters, but then have to abase yourself and embrace your suspension if you call Obama a dick. We elect grace and dignity to the highest office in the land in one election, then choose fulmination and factlessness for our legislature in our subsequent trip to the polls. Ferrell’s very good at playing people with vast reservoirs of rage and crabbed perspectives, and it’s made him a very successful comedian. But that success is because there’s an extent to which that disparity is a distillation of our age, and I can’t wait to watch him make that darkness even more pointed and visible.